NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — This August, Nashvillians will head to the polls to vote in the Metropolitan General Election.
Earlier this year, Mayor John Cooper announced he would not be seeking re-election, creating a wide-open field of candidates in the race to be the next mayor of Music City.
One of those candidates is Jeff Yarbro.
Yarbro currently represents the 21st district in the Tennessee State Senate. He was first elected to represent the district, which includes part of Davidson County, in 2015. He currently serves as the Minority Leader of the chamber for the Senate. Yarbro is also an attorney and holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Virginia Law School.
News 2 submitted questionnaires to each of the candidates running for Nashville mayor. The form featured six questions addressing some of Music City’s biggest issues—including crime rates, mass transit, homelessness, and the Metro government’s current relationship with the state government. Below you will find Yarbro’s answers to those questions.
How would you address the homelessness issues in Nashville?
Yarbro: “Nashville’s not the first city to face rising homelessness, and we know what works and what doesn’t. Many cities focus on making homelessness less visible — running folks without homes in and out of county jails, overnight shelters, and emergency rooms; clearing one encampment only to see two more arise. That approach isn’t just expensive. It doesn’t work, and those cities continue to see rising homelessness year after year. Cities that have succeeded in dramatically reducing homelessness have instead focused on getting people housed. Nashville should adopt key Housing First strategies that have been proven to work. First, for the newly or temporarily homeless, we should adopt a Rapid Rehousing Initiative to connect individuals to permanent housing options through targeted interventions and time-limited financial assistance. The speed of this intervention is critical, because we know each night living on the streets increases the risk of untreated physical and mental health conditions, developing a criminal record, or suffering trauma in unsafe spaces — all of which make long-term homelessness more likely. Second, for those experiencing chronic homelessness, the city should invest in Permanent Supportive Housing. Decades of research shows we’re more likely to get people the help they need treating physical and mental health conditions, addressing substance use disorders, and getting back on their feet when we focus first on bringing stability to their lives through permanent housing.”
What does the future of mass transit look like in Nashville, in your opinion?
Yarbro: “Nashville has to stop changing the future of mass transit every time the city elects a new Mayor. The planning, design, financing, and construction of meaningful mass transit takes place over decades rather than four-year mayoral terms. The most critical leadership task is taking our various plans and studies and forging a strategy that has the buy-in of key stakeholders across our community. Ultimately, Nashville should not be the biggest city in the United States without transit, and we should be moving towards dedicated funding and towards dedicated lane bus rapid or light rail transit, particularly on high-demand corridors such as from down Murfreesboro Road toward the airport and connecting to Rutherford County, which is the largest source of daily commuters in and out of Nashville. First, we should invest in improving the frequency and reliability of our existing bus service. Second, we should use data analytics to make targeted investments in adding new routes and in developing the micro-transit, pedestrian access, and bus station infrastructure that will improve the quantity of riders and the quality of their time using transit. Third, we must immediately recommence the work with regional mayors as well as the state government to identify areas where we can build a stronger foundation for regional transportation.”
If elected, how would you work to repair the relationship between the Metro Nashville government and the state government?
Yarbro: “I’ve served on the front lines of the disputes between Metro Nashville and the Tennessee General Assembly, and the status quo is unsustainable. The scope and extent of conflicts threaten not only the future of the city, but the overall prosperity of the State. The State Constitution requires and wise government dictates that local decisions should be made by local government, and no one should serve as Nashville’s next Mayor if they’re not willing to stand up for the city, its residents, and their rights to self-government. But it would be foolhardy to simply hope that a new Mayor can just go have a few lunch meetings and put the city-state relationship back on track. Instead, the next Mayor should build a coherent strategy both to avoid and navigate conflicts and to build partnerships whenever and wherever possible.
Based on my experience working with legislative leaders for most of the last decade, that strategy should have three key components: (1) communicating consistently and frequently with the Governor, key executive branch departments, and state legislators, particularly those in leadership; (2) focusing on common ground, common interests, and common sense so that our partnerships and joint undertakings become more notable than our conflicts, and (3) building coalitions within the city and across the state. In my work over three gubernatorial terms and working with four Nashville mayors, I know what it looks like when Nashville’s political, business, and civic leadership is working together.
When that happens, we are a force that is nearly impossible to stop. When we’re divided, the legislature can pick us apart. Given the unprecedented conflict between the Capitol and the Metro Courthouse, it is mission-critical to rebuild the coalition of the city.”
What would be your approach to addressing crime in the city and the increasing rate of violent crimes committed by juveniles?
Yarbro: “Public safety is a fundamental requirement for a successful city. If Nashville gets everything else right but fails to keep people safe, the city’s future will be at risk. Our city should adopt evidence-supported,
data-driven approaches to addressing violent crime. In Nashville as in most every city, violent crime is driven by a narrow group of largely identifiable individuals and concentrated in a subset of geographic locations — not whole neighborhoods but specific streets and blocks. Place-based policing, violence interruption, and non-policing investments and interventions that concentrate on these primary drivers of criminal conduct and violence are proven to work. We need to ensure we’re hiring sufficient police
officers and increasing salaries to avoid staffing shortages and turnover. We must also focus on the training, transparency, and accountability measures essential to build and support community trust. But we can’t focus only on policing. Part of the city’s charge when it comes to safety is responding quickly to streetlights that are out and communities that are neglected and developing conditions that allow crime to arise in the first place.”
How would you address the lack of affordable housing options around the city?
Yarbro: “It would be misguided for Nashville to limit its affordable housing agenda to public sector investments and projects. As the Senate sponsor of the original legislation authorizing Metro to make direct appropriations to support affordable housing and to obtain property that can be converted and used for affordable housing, I believe those efforts are critical. But we’ll only be nibbling around the edges of the larger affordability problem if our approach is limited to public sector spending by Metro, the Barnes Fund, and MDHA. Fundamentally, Nashville doesn’t have enough housing, and until supply catches up with demand, home prices will continue to rise and rents will continue to soar. First, we should make it a downhill endeavor for the private sector to build housing that will be attainable by individuals and families across the county and across income levels. That means cleaning up and speeding up the procedures for zoning, permitting, inspecting, and constructing affordable housing to eliminate unpredictability, delay, and increased costs. Second, we should prioritize our work to repair and rehabilitate the existing affordable housing stock before it is lost, and crack down on predatory practices targeting low-income residents. Third, Metro should be better leveraging government-owned properties to advance significant development in the type of housing that’s affordable for the teachers, police officers, and teachers who make this city work. Fourth, the Mayor should bring together business, philanthropies, and nonprofit organizations to advance public-private partnerships to build additional housing options. Whether that’s partnering with the music business to design and build housing and creative spaces for emerging artists, facilitating area colleges’ construction of additional student housing, or partnering with nonprofits to construct permanent supportive housing for homeless or at-risk populations, we should be bringing more ideas, resources, and dollars to the table to collectively solve a problem affecting us all. Finally, to make a housing abundance agenda feasible, we must ensure infrastructure and city services are keeping pace. Affordable housing isn’t just a top concern for voters, but a strategic imperative for the city, which requires making housing a whole-community priority.”
What do you believe is the biggest issue affecting Nashville and how would you plan to address it?
Yarbro: “The critical challenge facing us right now is livability. Nashville can’t be a great city if it’s not a great place to live. Finding a home you can afford in a neighborhood you love near schools you trust shouldn’t feel like winning the lottery. Driving to work or dropping your kids off at school shouldn’t feel like a daily adventure navigating around construction closures and dodging potholes. Cities around the country manage to construct new buildings without closing down roadways and sidewalks, and Nashville should be able to do that too. There’s no silver bullet municipal ordinance or a series of economic deals that ensure greater livability. Instead, we need a mayoral administration that is designed around improving the day-to-day provision of services and making the block-by-block investments in neighborhood communities where we live. That means continuously improving response times to 911 calls, reducing delays in the repair of potholes and disabled streetlights, and preventing pedestrian fatalities. It means investing in the roadways, sidewalks, greenways, and parks where people connect with their neighbors and the larger community. It means making the zoning, permitting, and development of new childcare centers just as important as new hotels. As Mayor, I’ll work every day to make sure Nashville is not just a city where you can make a living, but a community where people can build a life.”
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To read responses from other candidates in the race, click here.
The Metropolitan General Election takes place on August 3. A runoff will be held on September 14, if necessary.
Candidates have until noon on May 18 to qualify.